The J. L. Crowe Senior Boys basketball team booked their spot in the BC High School Basketball Championships in Langley, after winning the AA Kootenay Zone Finals in Invermere on Feb. 22.
The Crowe Hawks battled their way to the Zone championship with a 96-66 victory over Selkirk Secondary from Kimberley and a 64-60 victory over rival Prince Charles Secondary from Creston in the final.
“They (Prince Charles) had beaten us two games before, but I just knew we were the better team,” said Hawks coach Stephanie Leithead. “But they were always bad match ups where we had to play them after back-to-back games at a tournament, so we got our chance to play them at the playoffs and these guys were 16 points up and in control. It was just a really good match up.”
Most of the Hawks team has been together for four years, and for Grade 12 players and team captains Cam Nagle and Sam Knight, a trip to the provincials is a great way to cap off their senior year.
“Usually every year we get close to winning our zones,” said Nagle. “But this year, we were actually able to pull it off. I think we just wanted it a lot more. We knew it was our last year, so we kind of wanted to leave it all out there, and we worked really hard and it paid off.”
Coach Leithead grew up playing basketball and coaching in northern Alberta. She attended the University of Waterloo as a student-athlete, playing competitive basketball while taking her undergraduate degree. She has coached different levels of basketball since she was 16, and after finishing University, she coached minor basketball and the Juvenile Boys AA team in Borden, Ont.
Leithead came to Trail and Crowe in 2013 and has headed the basketball program for the past four years. At the beginning of this season, Leithead reportedly guaranteed her players that they were going to make it to provincials.
“That was our goal,” said Leithead. “We knew they were ready for it, it was just a matter of consistency and being able to stay composed through games and keep yourself collected. That’s actually been a lot of our focus this year, because when they are really on, they’re a very good team, and it’s nice to see them get rewarded for it.”
The Hawks played in a number of tournaments this season, most of them at the Triple-A level. Although they did not win, the experience of playing high-level teams has certainly helped the Hawks gel – on and off the court.
“It definitely helps,” said Knight. “It’s good to see how we play together, and makes it easier on the court. We had lots of assists to each other because we knew where we were going to be before we did it. It helps being together for four or five years with the same team.”
The Hawks coach is hoping to promote and develop the game of basketball even more in the Home of Champions, a game that often takes a back seat to hockey and skiing.
“We’re trying to develop that, and I think that’s one of the things we’re missing in our area, is a youth program,” said Leithead. “We need to start looking at developing a Steve Nash or an NBA program here so that we can start these kids younger.”
The Crowe Hawks begin play at the provincial championships on Wednesday as the number-15 seed and will take on the number-2 seed King George Dragons from Vancouver in their opening match at 3 p.m. in Langley.
The cost of travel and hotels is also an obstacle for many players, so any donations or sponsorships to the Hawks team to help with expenses will be appreciated.